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Helpful Scrivener features for NaNoWriMo

Are you trying out Scrivener for NaNoWriMo this year? Or maybe you’ve been using it for a while, but aren’t sure how to make the best use of it for this one-month sprint. I hope these tips (and links to how to implement them) will help you meet your 50K goal.

  • Set targets: Set up your 50K target with a November 30 deadline, and choose the days of the week you plan to write. Scrivener will calculate how much you need to write each day to stay on track, and adjust as you add words.
  • Keep a change log: I’ve mentioned several times that I shoot for no-edit writing during NaNo by utilizing a change log. How?
    • Add a text document to your Research folder—or create a new folder, maybe one called Ideas with the light bulb icon (right-click to change icon)—and call it Change Log.
    • Every time you think of something you need to go back and fix, add it to the document and get back to writing as if you already made the change. You can edit later, but if you change your mind again, it’s a lot easier to edit the log than the manuscript.
  • Annotate: How many times have you been writing along and realized you don’t know the name, speed, value, location, or color of something? Or maybe you can’t decide on the character’s name or type of car. Mark it, skip it, and get back to writing with these options.
    • Use an annotation or comment to make a note in the manuscript.
    • Don’t like annotations/comments? Mark the spot in your script with a character combo that won’t show up in any normal word (I use ZZZ), and move on. Some people like to differentiate, for example ZZR for research and ZZE for areas that need more work.
    • You can easily search for the marked up spots later.
  • Idea Log/Outline: Got a great idea for something coming later in the story? Create one or both of these files and store them with your Change Log.
    • Jot down notes for upcoming scenes in an Idea Log.
    • Create an outline that you can fill in as ideas come to you. This will be great for keeping you on track when you’re not sure what to write next.
  • Unused Scenes: Writing a scene but don’t know where to put it? Have an old scene that doesn’t belong, but you don’t want to delete it (I never delete anything)? Create an Unused Scenes folder and store the scenes for later.
  • Whatever else you need: You can keep your research materials, photos, character sketches/GMC, prewriting, and anything else that helps you, right inside your Scrivener project. I’ve just scratched the surface here, but hopefully this will get you started.
Even if you don’t make 50K, if you’ve added words, you’re still a winner where it counts.

Good luck!

Need more help? Sign up for an online class, read more Scrivener articles, or schedule a private training session. If you don't already have it, you can download Scrivener here.

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Surviving NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is a marathon for writers. With a super-stretch goal of 50,000 words, what can you do to get in shape now? These are the things that helped me win last year.

  • Prewriting: If you do any prewriting (e.g. Character sketches, exploratory scene writing, outlining), get it done before November 1st.
    • Even if you’re a total pantser, determining GMC and external conflicts now will go a long way toward ensuring you have a story idea that will sustain a novel-length work.
    • If you can outline, do it. I had a very sketchy outline last year, but it saved me when I got stuck and wasn’t sure what to start writing next.
  • Keep moving forward: Don’t go back to edit. Not only will this destroy your forward momentum, you end up wasting time fiddling with scenes that may just end up on the cutting room floor later. This more than anything is how I finished last year.
  • Create a change log: Should the first scene happen at the morgue instead of a bar? Jot down a note in the change log and keep writing as if you made the changes. (I keep such a file right in my Scrivener project for easy access).
  • Get comfortable: Are you planning to try Scrivener—or another writing program—during NaNo? Go for it! But download your free trial now and get used to it. You only need the basics to get started. You can play with all the cool features later.
    • The Scrivener trial is for 30 uses, not 30 days, so don’t close the program every day and it’ll get you through NaNo.
    • NaNo winners get a Scrivener discount coupon, so wait until you win to buy!
  • Time yourself: Use a timer to motivate you to sit in your chair (or stand at your desk) for manageable chunks of time. When it goes off you can decide if you want to keep writing or take a break. Writing is good, but breaks are important too.
  • Track your progress: I keep a log of my daily word count in Scrivener, and use the project targets to make sure I’m on track.
  • Alert friends and family: Get your family on board now. If you still have to make dinner, pick easy, quick meals for this month. Figure out what you need and ask for it now (designated quiet time, someone else to wash dishes, whatever). Make sure non-writing friends and family understand that you won't be answering the phone or checking email constantly.
  • Be antisocial: Being part of the NaNoWriMo, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ community is great, and can provide support during the long haul, but if it gets in the way of writing, turn it off. Need willpower help? Try MacFreedom or a similar program, unplug your wifi, or go somewhere that doesn’t have Internet access.
  • Reward yourself: Give yourself little rewards when you meet your goals. A bubble bath, a few pieces of chocolate, a chapter of a good book, a movie, time with your family. Pick something that works for you.

Most important of all, just try your best. Why do we torture ourselves? Because even if you don’t win, you’ll learn something about yourself. You’ll likely be amazed at what you accomplished, both in terms of total output and some of your daily totals.

I learned that my writing is better when I don't stop to censor or analyze it. I kept little sticky notes on my laptop with reminders like “write messy”, “write fast”, and “just write”.

It’s not about winning, it’s about going for it. No matter how many words you have at the end, it’ll be more than you have now.

That’s a win.

Are you a NaNoWriMo veteran? I'd love to see your tips for getting through it.


NaNoWriMo? Conquered. My Golden Heart entry? Submitted. Blind Fury? Oh, well, mostly finished. I actually left the wrap-up scenes off the back end for my GH entry, just to get it out the door on time. But that’s what December is for.

November was stressful, especially with Thanksgiving thrown in there (who’s brilliant idea was that?), but I don’t regret it at all. Here’s what I learned…

  1. Next year, my NaNo book will NOT be my Golden Heart entry. It was much too difficult trying to get the first 50 pages cleaned up, the synopsis done, and get it out the door on time while also trying to make word count. It reminded me of finals week during grad school, except my kids are taller than me now.
  2. I’m competitive. I like a challenge. Yeah, I knew that, already, but it was a good reminder.
  3. It’s possible to maintain word counts of 2500+ words per day over an extended period of time.
  4. I can live without Twitter, Facebook, and email if I have to.
  5. It’s incredibly freeing when you give yourself permission to write an imperfect story. *Snort* As if it wasn’t going to be anyway. When my internal editor started talking, I gave him a minute of my time to make a note in the change log, and then got back to work. (Yes, my internal editor is a man. I don't know why. It's like Herman's Head in there.)
    • When he questioned the value or validity of a scene, I decided to wait until the story was done and then make a decision on it.
    • Only once—when I knew that I had taken the story in the wrong direction—did I let the editor convince me to pull out several scenes and start in a new direction. That’s a huge step for me.
  6. The outline is my friend. As I’ve mentioned before, it helped me when I was stuck more times than I can count.
  7. I still like my story because I haven’t already rehashed every scene 50 times before I type “The End”.
  8. The feeling of accomplishment is worth it.

Participating in NaNo helped change my approach to my writing, mostly for the better. And while I’m cutting back for the next few days (mainly due to a hectic kids’ schedule), I don’t feel burned out.

If anything, I'm more energized than ever.


This is a drill

There are no prizes for NaNoWriMo winners, so what do writers get out of it? Bragging rights, a 50,000-word novel that may or may not suck eggs, and a month of pulling out our hair, to start.

It's the drill–basic training for published life–because I'm sure NaNo is nothing compared to the pressure of fulfilling a contract. And arguments about quantity versus quality aside, for me, the benefit of NaNoWriMo is the forced discipline. Oh yeah, and the total recalibration of my sense of what I can do. It used to be a push to write 1000 words per day, and I’m a stay-at-home mom. Now I’m getting daily counts like 2800 and 3600.

But those numbers are a byproduct of the discipline required to make 50K in one 30-day month happen. It’s so, so easy to take all that “free” time while my kids are at school and waste it. Sleep, laundry, cleaning, and grocery shopping all call to me. Okay, that’s a big fat lie, only sleep calls to me. The rest scream at me that they’ve been ignored far too long. I can tank a whole day reading email, Twitter, blog posts, craft books, and delicious new novels by my favorite authors.

All the fun things and all the the little things I must do, like work out, cook, eat, talk to my family, and walk the dog, compete with writing.

So, back to NaNo. If I want to make it, and have my Golden Heart entry ready to submit on time, I MUST sit down and write every day. And because of Thanksgiving and guests and swim meets on the weekends, I’m shooting for at least 2700 words on weekdays.

And because I removed 4400 words over the weekend (in spite of my outline, I took a wrong turn and it had to be undone), I must now write 3100 words every weekday this week. Yesterday I did it without too much trouble. A few writing sessions with my tea timer on, a quick review of my outline to keep me on track, and an understanding of how I went wrong on Friday, and I was cooking with gas.

That’s a good day. On bad days, that NaNo deadline is the drill instructor in my face. The little push I need to go further.

If I take nothing else away from NaNoWriMo, I hope I can keep this newfound discipline and sense that I can do so much more than I ever thought possible. Until we have a contract and a publisher setting the deadlines for us, there’s no reason we can’t set our own. Tell your spouse, your CP, or everyone on Facebook. Then let that be the drill instructor for you. Or reward yourself with chocolate.

Either way, you can probably do a lot more than you ever dreamed.


P.S. Happy birthday to my awesome mother who would have been 62 today. She inspired me to live life based on what really matters, and I miss her every day.

NaNo particles

As of November 10th, I have written 16,748 words for NaNoWriMo. After a frenzied couple of days of being behind, I’m back on track. Here are a few of the tricks that are helping me move forward and keep my internal editor napping soundly.

An outline. I’ve mentioned this before, but I spent about six weeks playing around with the story and characters before I finally had a decent vision of my major plot points and some of the necessary scenes in between. This has been an absolute lifesaver when I finish a scene and think, “Now what?” I check the outline and get back on track.

A change log. This isn’t for tracking revisions I’ve done, this is for tracking revisions I need to make. For small items that I want to come back to, I’ll either annotate the section (using Scrivener’s annotation feature), or mark it with a ZZZ (for which I have a saved search in, yes, Scrivener), and find it later when I’m in edit mode.

That’s what the change log isn’t. It is a document where I make notes of things that I need to fix in earlier scenes so that they match what I’m writing now. For example, halfway through the book, I decide that a reporter needs to be at the funeral in part one of the book for my current scene in part two to make sense. In the past, I would have gone back and fixed all the relevant scenes before moving forward.

Now, I note it in the change log and keep writing. Two big advantages here. One, I don’t lose my momentum with the current scene. Two, if I change my mind again later, I have just saved myself a lot of unnecessary time.

A tea timer. I’m trying to write in one hour chunks without interruption. Then at the end of each hour, I can take a (quick!) break to read email, play on Twitter, or read a blog. Or, you know, eat, work out, talk to my kids. This way I get a reward for my hard work, but don’t get sucked into the Internet vortex for hours on end. For this, I like the Tea Timer widget on the Mac because it travels with my laptop.

Understanding family and friends. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you where to find them, but I’m lucky enough to have my own set. The Engineer may not understand my love of writing and my addiction to books, but he respects it, and puts up with dirty bathrooms and dog hair on the floor. Or he cleans it himself! 😉 See, there’s that practical romance thing again…

So, those are my not-so-secret weapons to pounding out the words during NaNoWriMo, or any other month of the year. What are yours?

NaNoWriMo! Aye, aye sir!

I think the founder of NaNoWriMo must have been in the Navy. That service more than any other loves to smash parts of words together to form new names. ComNavAirPac. ComSubPac. NavMilPersCom. SeALs.

Okay, but seriously, National Novel Writing Month is almost a plague in the writing world. For the entire month of November it seems to be the only thing people are talking about, myself included. The big question for me is: Why do people do it?

Last year I was in the middle of editing a book and didn’t want to lose momentum. The year before that, I hadn’t started writing yet. Here are my reasons for finally joining the insanity.

  1. To force myself to finish my current WIP. I need 80,000 words. I currently have 30K. NaNo’s 50K requirement is the perfect push.
  2. To get my WIP done before the Golden Heart contest entry date. The full MS doesn’t have to be perfect unless I final, and if by some miracle that actually happened, I still have until March to get it cleaned up.
  3. For the same reason I once ran a half-marathon: To prove to myself that I can do it.
  4. Most important of all, to turn off the infernal, internal editor. (See this post where I rant on the aforementioned infernal voice.)

For another perspective, my friend Holly delineated her own reasons for giving NaNoWriMo a try in beautiful, writerly prose here.

Now I know that some people have issues with something that forces writers to go for quantity over quality. It’s a valid point for sure. But for now, I want to avoid perfection syndrome and get the words out. I have a basic structure and outline to keep me on track (until I change it ;-)). Besides, no book is complete without revisions.

During NaNo, I won’t have time for that. This is a good thing. It’ll keep me from wasting time micro-editing scenes that will probably change once I’m done anyway.

I’m not so interested in the whole community that grows out of NaNo. I’m pretty happy with my solitary writing existence—with the exception of my visits to the water cooler that is Twitter, and this blog, of course—but for those who don’t have access to writing chapters or don’t know any other writers, the organization provides a great way for them to meet others, both online and at rallies and write-ins in their local area.

Clearly many of the participants—even the winners—will never get published. But, that’s not necessarily what it’s about. It’s about pushing yourself to finish something. It’s about finding your pure, uninhibited voice. It’s about releasing your inner storyteller.

Those are my reasons. Whether you're doing it or not, what are yours?